Al-Ahram Weekly Online   19 - 25 August 2010
Issue No. 1012
Press review
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Higher and higher

The spiralling cost of goods in Ramadan and the Ground Zero mosque which Obama supports were the focus of Doaa El-Bey and Rasha Saad

The soaring cost of goods in Ramadan is challenging families during the holy month

Mohamed Abdel-Fattah asked where the government was. Abdel-Fattah wrote in the daily Al-Wafd, the mouthpiece of the opposition Wafd Party, that the rise in prices had become the mother of all problems in Ramadan. The price of a commodity doubles overnight for no apparent reason while the citizen finds himself defenceless before the greediness of merchants.

Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif told the press that governors would control the price and monitor the market during Ramadan. Nevertheless, Abdel-Fattah added, the prices of all goods in Egypt rose. But given that businessmen, some of whom belong to Nazif's government, raise prices, then the question is who should monitor who? Can governors monitor the markets and goods of businessmen or monitor those of the ministers? Are we in a country governed by business, one in which the government cannot do or control anything?

The wheat crisis that led to a rise in cost and a fall in supply poses a real danger to people who basically depend on bread for food.

Faten Abdel-Raziq wrote that the wheat problem had spread fear among ordinary citizens of a possible rise in the price of subsidised bread and prompted the government to move quickly to emphasise that there would be no increase in the price of bread. However, Abdel-Raziq added, the crisis raised a few questions for officials: where is the role of research centres and international experts in achieving self-sufficiency in strategic goods like wheat? Why didn't we apply the successful experiments of other countries in using genetics in increasing various crops including wheat, and who made the Egyptian peasant desert his land?

Abdel-Raziq expressed her desire in the official daily Al-Akhbar that a new strategy be initiated to encourage farmers and investors to reclaim vast spaces of land and introduce the most modern irrigation methods. There are many ideas but we should execute some of them rather than wait until another crisis happens, Abdel-Raziq concluded.

Mohamed El-Saadani wrote that we should be grateful to Russia for taking the decision to suspend its export of wheat until it covers its local needs because the decision should force officials to reconsider their policy and grow wheat in Egypt.

In the absence of any agriculture plans in Egypt, El-Saadani elaborated, calls were made to grow at least 80 per cent of our domestic need of wheat to avoid the repercussions of natural disasters like that which happened in Russia and to spare ourselves any political pressure from the countries that provide us with wheat. However, the government turned a deaf ear to these calls claiming that importing wheat is cheaper than planting it.

But now, in the light of the Russian forest fires, Social Solidarity Minister Ali El-Meselhi stated it was better to plant our own wheat, indicating that the government's previous claims that self-sufficiency of wheat was not possible were wrong and contradicted with Egypt's public interest.

"The price difference that the state is paying at present is due to the rise in the price of wheat but which far exceeds the money that it was supposed to pay to encourage farmers to plant wheat," he wrote in the official daily Al-Ahram.

Thus, El-Saadani called on the government to carefully consider ways to encourage farmers to plant wheat and force the owners of new desert land to plant part of it with wheat.

The Palestinians find it difficult to take the decision to start direct negotiations with Israel unless there are guarantees of its success. However, neither the behaviour nor the statements of Israeli officials indicate they are willing to give any guarantees.

Hala Annara wrote about a Ramadan riddle that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu aimed to entertain us with in the holy month. Netanyahu rejected any discussion of the issue of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees or a halt to settlement buildings. Nevertheless, he called for the immediate start of direct Palestinians-Israeli negotiations.

"If all the important issues are beyond discussion, why does Netanyahu want to start direct negotiations?" she wrote in the independent daily Nahdet Masr.

Netanyahu's intransigence led the Fatah movement to threaten to resort to popular resistance if the peace talks fail. A top Fatah official said if the negotiations were not held on the basis of the two-state solution according to pre-1967 borders, a return to popular resistance would be one option for Fatah.

Netanyahu should realise that the world has changed and that he cannot settle the Arab-Israeli conflict by using force. Annara added Netanyahu would be unable to impose all his conditions in the negotiations or achieve peace for his country without providing peace for the Palestinians.

The long and repeated power cuts in many governorates shed light on the performance of the sector and the declining service it is providing the public.

Osama Heikal wrote that in spite of the poor service that this sector is providing, the government neither apologised nor acknowledged its failure to provide a decent service, nor mentioned any procedures to be taken to improve the performance of the electricity network.

The electricity sector, he continued, has seen a marked deterioration during the last few years, reaching its peak in the last few weeks when repeated power cuts were covered in the front pages of newspapers. And the Ministry of Electricity surprised us by providing its services to various districts in rotation. Then the power was cut in seven governorates at the same time, Heikal wrote in the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Yom.

The bottom line is that the service is deteriorating. Thus we should question the minister of electricity as to why the service his ministry is providing has witnessed noticeable deterioration, what has the ministry been doing with the large bill it collected during the last few years and is his management of such an important sector good enough.

"The repeated cuts in the Egyptian electricity network has reached a dangerous stage. A major catastrophe could happen if we do not move," Heikal summed up.

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